Theodora Ibeneme is the chief executive officer of Dora Naturals, a natural cosmetic brand based in Lagos. She speaks with TOMINA EGBOKWU about the beauty industry
Dora Naturals has been in existence since 2016. What has kept the business going is the growing demand for natural, handmade cosmetics that are safe and effective.
I was working at an insurance company prior to starting my business; it was a very tedious and demanding job. But a particular incident prompted my decision. When my boss was so uncooperative and uncompassionate when I had an accident, I realised at that moment that if I lost my life in the course of work, I will be replaced the very next day and work has to go on. So, I began taking constructive steps, which eventually led to my resignation.
Also, I studied Industrial Chemistry in school. I had the knowledge of cosmetics and formulations and I had delved into it since my school days, as far back as 2007 through to 2010. I was the go-to person for anyone that had skin issues; so, the passion and skills have always been there. When I eventually had to leave my job, I knew I had to go back to my first love, which was cosmeceuticals and formulation of body care products. Since then, I have done lots of personal training and development.
What are your responsibilities as the CEO of the company?
To constantly push the brand forward and make sure I know and I’m involved with every aspect of the business, including formulation, customer care, branding, marketing and accounting.
What do you love most about your job?
The excitement when we create a lovely product or find new ways to create existing products. It’s exciting being a chemist.
What were the challenges encountered when you started out, and how have you tackled them?
The challenges are never-ending. I started from home until I moved to a store location. Challenges have been what most Small and Medium-scale Enterprises face in Nigeria; these include sourcing of quality raw materials and packaging. There is a need for the governing bodies that accredit cosmetics to have a more favourable condition for growing SMEs.
How would you describe the level of patronage for your products?
The growth has been tremendous over the years, visibly seen on our increasing product range and production capacity.
What is your view about the beauty industry in Nigeria currently?
The beauty industry is still growing, and I will say we have grown over the years. I would love for us to have a better governing body that we can take our challenges to, a body that will address a situation whereby unqualified people churn out substandard products in the market.
Do you think the growth of the local industry has reduced Nigerians’ appetite for foreign brands?
Nigerians love good things and better things of life. But with the growth of made-in-Nigeria goods and the ridiculous naira/dollar exchange rate, a lot of people have begun to look inwards. They are looking back home for things they can purchase here in Nigeria, instead of buying outside the county. I am impressed with the growth and improvement of made-in-Nigeria products. We are not there yet, but we will surely get there with the help of the government.
Some people believe the beauty industry is saturated. In what ways do you distinguish yourself in the industry?
Which industry is not saturated? Is it the fashion industry or the food industry? Or is it the interior decoration industry or the music industry? What I believe is that there is market for everyone and you can’t satisfy the demand in Nigeria even if you try.
I try to be authentic and honest with my brand. I source at least 80 per cent of my raw materials in Nigeria.
What is your take on government’s involvement in the beauty industry? What policies do you think can be improved upon or introduced?
The government should have more favourable requirements for the SMEs and accreditation of products. Some of the requirements are outrageous and SMEs find it difficult to meet them. They should also give grants and loans. I know the Lagos state government has one already. Also creating a beauty hub wouldn’t be bad at all; I know some banks that have already taken the initiative themselves.
What was the breakthrough moment in your career?
I will say everyday is a breakthrough for me. I won’t point to any particular moment. Because every day we receive an order from clients or get great reviews on our social media handles is something that makes me very happy. But one of the most beautiful moments was when we opened our first store in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos. It was exciting.
What are some of the pressing changes you would like to see in the industry?
The proliferation of bleaching products is number one. Everywhere you go, either online or in physical stores, bleaching or whitening products are being advertised. That needs to stop. I hate the fact that people are selling a wrong idea that ‘white’ is more superior. I love my melanin beauties.
What are some of the qualities that have helped you in your career?
It’s a process and we are still in the process. But I know that my passion helps me wake up in the morning to work, even when I didn’t feel like it. I have also learnt how to deal with every aspect of my business and I commit to constant learning. You learn, unlearn and relearn.
What are some of the important lessons you have learnt in business?
Having the right people around you can take you to the peak. You can’t do everything yourself; outsource if you can, hire if you can, so you don’t burn out. No man is an island; we need good people to help us achieve much more.
Where do you see Dora Naturals in the near future?
I see it becoming a multimillion-dollar company and a foremost brand when you think of made-in-Nigeria body care products. We would also like to be able to offer training and skills to young girls, taking them off the streets and giving them hope.
What is your advice to young people venturing into this kind of business?
Start small, think big.
Who are your role models?
There are so many of them: Mo Abudu, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Valerie Oba, Udo Okonjo, Ibukun Awosika, Olajumoke Adenowo, and Chimamanda Adichie. These women and more are changing the narrative and taking giant strides in their industries. I hope to become like them one day.
What do you do for fun?
I’m a foodie; I love trying out new cuisines, and I love traveling to new and exciting places.